Oliver Laric
'Versions', 2012
HD Video

A remarkable video by the Austrian artist Oliver Laric is almost entirely about the unreliability of visual truth, particularly in the digital realm, where anything and everything can be invented.  As an example, Mr. Laric points to photographs released on the Internet in 2008 by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, purporting to show four missiles built in Iran and capable of attacking Israel. The pictures, however, had been inexpertly faked, and soon comically exaggerated versions of them, with dozens of missiles, proliferated online. Yet at least briefly, when they first appeared, the pictures did what they were meant to do: cause fear.

-Holland Cotter, The New York Times, 'A Different Kind of Order: The ICP Triennial', 16 May 2013


Since 2009, Oliver Laric has anchored his wide-ranging artistic output with a series of three videos works, collectively titled Versions. These videos act as gathering points for his theoretical, aesthetic, and research concerns with the bootleg, the remix, and the hybrid. Whilst the Versions videos function as kind of compendium of Laric’s evolving interests, they also act as sites where these interests can be further elaborated, played against one another, and allowed to coagulate, if only temporarily, into a whole. 

This latest iteration of Versions, like it’s predecessors, is made up of a collection of discreet, yet thematically related segments that circle around Laric’s perennial concerns related to notions of authenticity, value, and permanence. In keeping with Laric’s interest in the semblance of things, Versions is accompanied by a computerized-sounding narration – a voiceover that is actually the recorded voice of an actress instructed by Laric to mimic the stilted diction of text-to-speech software. In previous iterations, the narration took on a quasi-expository role, whereas here it takes the form of a collage of gnomic declarations culled from high and low sources, in which one finds, for example, a quote from Bruce Lee juxtaposed with a passage from Jorge Luis Borges, or a rhyme lifted from the RZA. All of the quotations have a relevant thematic heft; some referring more directly to the visual piece they accompany than others. A case in point relates the famous epistemological paradox – known variously as the Ship of Theseus, or the Grandfather’s Axe – to a section in the video where Laric animates piece-by-piece the construction of Japan’s Ise Shrine.  Raising the philosophical question of whether an object which has had all its component parts replaced remains fundamentally the same object, this holy Shinto shrine, recently removed from the list of World Heritage Sites, has been torn down and reconstructed from scratch every twenty years since 690 C.E.  

Not incidentally, the Ise Shrine has also appeared as an element in several other works by Laric, including a sculpture in the artist’s last solo show at Tanya Leighton Gallery, Berlin indicating Laric’s interest in revision and reuse both as a practical methodology and theoretical concern. Similarly, the juxtaposition of two character animations from Disney’s Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree (1966) and The Jungle Book (1967), (in which the underling armatures of the cell animation were reused), is itself a reuse, in altered form, of a sequence from an earlier Versions video. The iridescent, three dimensional rendering of a Janus-faced Sun Tzu – a hybrid totem of the ancient East and modern West – is a echo from a series of poured-polyurethane sculptures Laric recently produced for the High Line in New York.   

Whilst several sequences within the video deliberately retread past territory, many other segments are in fact, the result of laborious processes of research and development, unbeknownst to the viewer and only fleetingly apparent in the final product. Perhaps the most extreme example of this comes in the form of a flickering, kaleidoscopic ten-second clip of a man walking down a forest path, taken from Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon (1950). Playing off the film’s portrayal of differing accounts a woman’s rape and the murder of her samurai husband spun by four separate witnesses, Laric isolated each of the 250 frames that make up this brief, incidental scene in the movie, and sent each individual frame to a different image retoucher, with the request that they colourize the original black-and-white image. The resultant clip is a Structuralist gesture befitting our global age: a fast-flickering montage of hundreds of different colouristic viewpoints, outsourced to professional freelance workers the world over. 

Versions (2012) also includes a brief vignette that lays the groundwork for possible future projects, a gesture that exists in neat formal congruence with Laric’s backwards-and-forwards facing bust of China’s philosopher of war, Sun Tzu. Towards the middle of the video, we are presented with a cartoonish, digital squid that bobs languidly against a white background, seemingly cooling its heels, waiting for something. It blinks. It changes colour. But mostly it just mutely is. Unlike almost everything else in the video, its presence seems entirely inexplicable – it lolls in the frame like a flat-footed non sequitur, plopped unceremoniously in the path of the work’s fugue-like narrative. Yet, this character is not as out-of-place as it first appears. It was produced at Laric’s behest by an animation studio in the Kaesong Industrial Region in North Korea – a collaborative economic development with South Korea, located just ten kilometers north of the Korean Demilitarized Zone – that exists as a kind of liminal or hybrid space.  In a similar vein the squid, dubbed ‘Sealake’ by the studio, similarly exists as an entity in limbo, a readymade waiting for future utilization.

'Versions' (2012) premiered at Art|43|Basel, Art Statements, 14 - 17 June 2012